Writing an Action Screenplay: Things to Keep in Mind
There’s no better feeling than immersing yourself in a full-blown action film. Like any other genre, some are great, while others are bad. Still, there’s something to learn with every action screenplay, and in this article, we’ll discuss things to keep in mind while writing one.
We’ll discuss the essentials such as fight scenes, cliffhangers, and surprises. Also, we’ll go over other areas such as the technicality of writing, antagonists, and believability. By the end, you’ll have a better idea of how to write an action screenplay and the foundation of how to start your script.
Still from 'Die Hard'. Photo credit: Vulture
Fight Scenes and More
Usually, whenever someone brings up a great action film or television series, it usually revolves around a fight scene that stands out. It’s a matter of enticing the audiences with the promise of a massive blockbuster fight sequence. If you hope to produce the film yourself and be on the indie side, there is still plenty you can do within a smaller budget.
Besides fight scenes, you need to understand the dynamic your film is in. Obviously, many don’t look for fight scenes for their dialogue or characterization, but it’s worth paying attention to that side too. The worse action films neglected these areas, and the film suffered as a result.
You don’t have to set up a cliffhanger in every scene, but it’s worth having them sprinkled throughout your script. It’s meant to pose big questions at the end of scenes, allowing you to take the audience up until the action concludes by cutting to a new scene. It lets the audience wonder it’ll play out.
Again, you have to be careful with cliffhangers because doing it too much will annoy audiences and get tiresome fast. Do your best to keep them fresh and resolve them fairly quickly, unless it’s a major plot twist. Either way, look at the examples below and while watching them, look for cliffhangers and how they were done.
Similar to cliffhangers, your action script should have surprises, otherwise, it’ll feel very flat. Common examples include character reveals, deaths, and betrayals. As long as you keep that in mind when writing, you’ll know when to add these surprises to your story. Remember not to overuse them, or the audience will get annoyed.
Make it Believable and Difficult
Many action scripts fail to add a sense of believability to their stories. As easy as it is to neglect the script, don’t make it too easy for your characters. Your characters should face problems and repercussions while trying to achieve their goals. If you can keep it interesting in that way, audiences won’t lose respect for your story.
Bad Guys (Aka the Antagonist)
What’s the point of an action film without an antagonist to root against? Whether it’s The Terminator in the Terminator franchise, the Xenomorphs in the Alien franchises, Bennett in Commando, or Hans Gruber in Die Hard, every great action film has a central antagonist.
Do your best to give your antagonist a deep characterization when possible, otherwise, it’ll feel stale. Even from a broader antagonist like Xenomorphs, you need to write it in a way where it’s not evil for the sake of being evil. Make it as detailed as you can without taking away from the story or action.
Don’t Get Too Technical
Unless you plan on directing your script, don’t worry about getting too technical. Technicality in this case refers to describing how you’ll capture action sequences, camera movement, and so forth. That’s the director's job. While you can write a character’s movement or action, don’t worry about the technical side as much.
Great Action Scripts to Analyze
Now that we’ve talked about what to keep in mind while writing an action screenplay, your next step is to analyze some of the best action scripts produced. If you have a hard time finding any of these scripts to read, don’t worry. Watch these films, even if you’ve seen them before, and analyze them from a writing perspective.
Die Hard (1988)
Logline - A New York City police officer tries to save his estranged wife and several others taken hostage by terrorists during a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles.
John Wick (2014)
Logline - An ex-hit-man comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that killed his dog and took his car.
Logline - A tough-as-nails cop teams up with an undercover agent to shut down a sinister mobster and his crew.
Logline - Fifty-seven years after surviving an apocalyptic attack aboard her space vessel by merciless space creatures, Officer Ripley awakens from hyper-sleep and tries to warn anyone who will listen about the predators.
The Terminator (1984)
Logline - A human soldier is sent from 2029 to 1984 to stop an almost indestructible cyborg killing machine, sent from the same year, which has been programmed to execute a young woman whose unborn son is the key to humanity's future salvation.